BEFORE PELION

(Some Things About The Author)

Just as Mt Pelion was piled on top of Mt Ossa and Ossa on top of Mt Olympus, this Pelion adventure builds on a unique combination of personal experiences. My first mountain was, in fact, Mt. Olympus.  When I was in scouting our scout leader took four of us up Mt. Olympus on the Olympic peninsula in Washington. The next year I was old enough to join the Seattle Mountaineers and took their climbing courses and climbed Rainier via the Emmons route in 1951.   It was a fantastic set of experiences. I was trained and mentored by people concerned with safety and appreciation of the out-of-doors, trails and peaks. 

Mount Olympus

As a child I was asthmatic and limited in my sports options. Many nights I watched from my bedroom window while the other kids in the neighborhood played basketball.  My interests were books and a chemistry set and model building.  My father was foreman in a logging camp when I was born and later owned a log patrol company for saw mills in Puget Sound.  In a sense he was like the marshals in the western movies trying to catch the cattle thieves.  Dad protected the logs that would go to the saw mills from log rustlers and small sawmills that scavenged stray drifting logs.  Just like cows, logs were branded and tell-tale signs of rustling could be found in the ends of logs with brands on them drifting down the Duwamish River or in Elliot Bay. Woods, logging and hunting were in the family tradition.  His father left an Indian reservation in northern California when he was only twelve, hiked north into Oregon to find work and a place to help raise his brother.  Having Indian blood made me a candidate for being the Indian in games of cowboys and Indians and added a romantic notion to my outdoor experiences. 

I found that above timberline I could breathe and exert myself like I never could at home, and once I found a way into the mountains through the Seattle Mountaineers, my life was climbing and studying.  I climbed and/or skied most weekends for several years, taught climbing, and was active in mountain rescue activities.

The Mountaineers had rope stations scattered around Seattle.  My parents allowed our back porch to serve as one.  It was a big box with eight to ten climbing ropes.  A mountaineer could check out a rope whenever they needed one. If I was around the house when someone was picking up a rope I would ask where they were going and sometimes, if I could go with them.  I always had a climbing pack ready.

The Seattle Mountaineers was a growth experience. Even at the age of fifteen I was teaching climbing and working, it seemed as an equal, with people several times my age, including, doctors, professors, engineers, postmen and high school drop outs, men and women.  The teaching experience was special in that you taught people skills that their lives --and mine-- would depend upon. 

Mt Ossa

(I have never climbed Mt Ossa although there are several.  Ossa here, represents a second major set of professional experiences which would lead to Pelion).

My grounding in teaching to foster a supportive team carried over into experiences in industry, as faculty member at Northern Arizona University and later at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and into consulting activities in industry and government organizations.

Being from Seattle my first job after graduating was at the Boeing Company. My years there were a continuation in growth working in plasma physics research labs; in the Minuteman Missile System Program Management; in the research planning department.  In 1958 I helped develop the research plan for the company and picked up an MBA trying to figure out what everybody liked about the plan. While I was taking graduate courses I also got into computer programming and systems analysis at Boeing.

Coming from the sciences many of the behavioral courses required in the MBA program made me think more about organizational structure and the concept of a climbing team, goal setting, the setting into process the actions necessary to achieve the goal…the summit. At first glance the summit as a metaphor for organizational objectives seems blurry because when you get on top of a peak, you have to climb down.  The imagery sharpens when one looks at the life-cycle of organizations. The demands for organizations and products and services change and everybody has to climb back down into the valleys in order to start a new route up

While researching concepts on needs and values in shaping behavior in organizations I remembered sitting on a steep pumice-strewn ridge near the top of Mt Adams a number of years before.  Four or five older climbers (thirties was old then) were complaining amongst themselves about the attitudes of some of the younger climbers (late teens and early twenties) who seemed more oriented to “bagging” a lot of peaks rather than enjoying the scenery and the majesty, and all that, of the mountains.  When I moved nearer the younger group they were carping about the older climbers being too slow.  It was a startling realization for me, anyway, that everyone climbing a mountain is climbing it for a different reason and everybody in an organization is there for a different reason.

Years later I was teaching at the University Of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business with an interest in organizational architecture, not unlike putting together a climbing team.  I happened to talk with a childhood friend who worked in the White House and we talked about organizational concepts. He invited me to come down and look at some issues for him. The details would require more pages than necessary but a spin off of the experience was some consulting in the Philadelphia Office concerned with drug abuse treatment and prevention.  They wanted a course on Management-By-Objectives, a then in-vogue management concept.  I suggested I could teach them more about management, communication and team building with one day of rock climbing than I could with a week in a classroom. They split fifty-fifty on wanting to go climbing so we did the classroom exercises; but they wanted to try out climbing as an adjunct to drug treatment.

After a couple of trips I was encouraged to go after a grant to do a much larger study on the effectiveness of challenge in changing behavior.  This led me to the formation of The Institute For Outdoor Awareness, Inc. The Institute provided outdoor education and challenge trips. Trips were provided for people in a variety of therapy settings; for management training; for teacher training.   As described in the first chapter, it was on an Institute For Outdoor Awareness outing that the concept of climbing Mt. Rainier was conceived as a way of demonstrating what people can do if they are given a chance.